When the U.S. track team headed to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, they brought along a $181,000 photo biomodulation pod—a red light bed. Their coach, Alberto Salazar, swore by its power to promote recovery and heal injuries, allowing the athletes to train harder.
Thanks to new, affordable LED technology, this therapy is now available for the rest of us. Planet Fitness offers it at its clubs. There are even at-home systems, like Joovv (seen here, starting at $295 for the Joovv Go).
Fans insist that 10 or 15 minutes of light a few times a week is all it takes to reap bene fits like less joint pain and soreness. Sound too good to be true? Maybe not.
“Red light therapy may help you recover from exercise, sleep better, heal wounds and injuries like tendonitis, reduce arthritis—and it may simply make you feel better, which is something that’s hard to quantify,” says Michael Hamblin, a photomedicine researcher at Harvard Medical School who has been studying light therapy for three decades.
Here’s how it works: Different colors of light penetrate skin with different intensities. Those light waves then stimulate cell activity. Light on the red spectrum stimulates cell regeneration. (Ultraviolet light, by contrast, causes cell damage.) Red light gets absorbed by the superficial layer of the skin (which is why it’s used by dermatologists for a variety of conditions). Near infrared is able to penetrate deeper and is used for deep muscle recovery. Red light therapy is free of side effects; only a small percentage of people may be sensitive to the light, Hamblin says. And, unlike lasers, LED lights are safe for the eyes.
There’s still more research to be done, but if you’ve been interested in red light therapy, consider it greenlighted.